The Film (4/5)
As a child and through to my teenage years I was obsessed by the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and devoured every piece of media I could find on the subject from Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur to T.H. White's The Once and Future King and Tennyson's Idyll's of the King. As far as films went Excalibur was on frequent rotation, and on the sillier side of the spectrum so was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The film that began this obsession was the 1963 film adaptation of the first book of White's the Once and Future King, The Sword in the Stone.
The Sword in the Stone follows young Wart, who unknowingly is the son of deceased King Uther Pendragon. Wart is currently training to be a squire, when one day while out hunting with his Knight Sir Kay, an arrow Kay misfires is shot into the dark woods, and Wart goes to retrieve it. While in the woods he ends up arriving at the cottage of Merlin the Magician. Merlin was, or course, anticipating the young Wart, and travels back to the castle to take him under his tutelage and ensure he receives a proper education. He must mold young Arthur into the future King of England, and prepare him to pull the Sword from the Stone (although he is unaware of having to do this)setting him on his course to his ultimate fate.
Looking back on the Sword in the Stone, it is not Disney's most well made film. The narrative is too simplistic for it's own good, taking what is a complex rich mythology, and treating it as if it is a series of set pieces. Aside from that, the most glaring issue has to do with the voice cast, 3 actors (2 of the director's children) provide the voice for Wart. As a child, I didn't notice the changes, but watching the film as an adult the change in voice tones is quite obvious. That being said, even separating the film from my own personal nostalgia over it, it is a fine attempt by Disney to capture the young boy market with an adventure tale. For the most part Disney is known for it's Princess line of films with Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty being the most obvious classics from early Disney. It was rare for Disney to create something such as this, Jungle Book, or Robin Hood. The later film Aladdin, of course, blended the adventure film template with that of Disney Princesses to great effect, but at the time those 2 worlds appeared quite separate in Disney’s filmography.
I have to admit I have purchased this film on VHS and DVD prior, it is never outside of my collection even if it does not get into heavy rotation with my own children. Even with the flaws present, it is certainly a fun adventure film with simplistic, but beautiful animation, and certainly stands the test of time in that regard.
Unfortunately, the Disney Blu-ray I was looking forward to most of all has to suffer from one of the weakest transfers I have seen from the current line of Disney Blu-ray's. The film is presented in a 1:75:1 1080p MPEG4 encoded transfer. The transfer certainly has nicer colors, more solid black levels, and even some nicer detail than the prior DVD iteration. That being said the transfer is quite soft, and even appears occasionally out of focus.
Disney has presented Sword in the Stone with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The track is solid for the most part with dialogue, music, and effects coming through nicely. I did, however, detect some minor hissing on the audio track which I found odd for a Disney release.
There really isn't much here that makes this a truly special edition. We have the films alternate opening recreated via story boards. This is followed by an 8 minute piece on the Sherman Brothers who created the music for the film. We get a 7 minute excerpt from All About the Magic as well. The disc is rounded off by 2 classic Disney Shorts the Brave Little Tailor, and a Knight for a Day, and a singalong option.
Sword in the Stone is not as well regarded as certain classic Disney films, but it has always been a favorite of mine. The A/V restoration is unfortunately lacking on this Blu-ray release, and the extras are quite slim. The movie is RECOMMENDED, of course, but the Blu-ray is Not Recommended.